The bread lady has been on vacation for the past two weeks. She also took two weeks off earlier in August. That means that we have had to fend for ourselves when it comes to bread, rather than depend on her four-times-a-week deliveries.
There are basically three solutions when it comes to bread: (1) get in the car every day and drive five miles or more round-trip to buy fresh bread from one of the local boulangeries; (2) buy several baguettes at a time and put them in the freezer, thawing some for consumption each day; or (3) make your own. I've been doing a combination of all three, but making my own has been the most satisfying.
Besides being better shaped, the loaves (épis) on the right cooked at a higher temperature and have a more pleasing color.
All four loaves were made with 400 grams of all-purpose flour and 100 grams of oat flour.
I'm pretty pleased with the result. I use a stand mixer (a Kitchenaid) to mix and knead the dough. I bake the loaves of bread on a pizza stone in the oven. Here is the ingredient list for three to four small loaves:
400 grams of all-purpose flour (French type 55)
100 grams of some other flour (corn meal, oat flour, rye flour)
1 package (5 grams) of active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of honey
about 1 cup of warm water
Those proportions have been working really well for me. The amount of water is approximate. The only way to judge the precise amount is by feel. Put all the dry ingredients — flours, salt, yeast — in the mixer bowl and stir them together well. Then slowly pour in the warm water, with the honey dissolved in it, as the mixer turns the ingredients until a ball of dough forms and feels not too sticky to the touch. The mixer kneads the dough for 10 minutes, and then I knead it by hand on a work surface for two or three minutes before I put it into a bowl to let it rise.
These two fat loaves were made with 400 grams of all-purpose flour and 100 grams of corn meal.
Cover the bowl containing the dough ball with plastic wrap and then with a couple of kitchen towels to protect it from air currents and to keep the dough ball warm. It will double in size (volume) after an hour to 90 minutes of rising.
At that point, take the dough out of the bowl, using a pastry scraper if needed, and shape it into a loaves or boules as you want (make sure they'll fit on the pizza stone). Flour the work surface and the loaves lightly, and let the dough rise a second time. Score the tops of the loaves with a very sharp knife or a razor blade. I've found that letting the loaves rise on a floured wooden board for about an hour works well, and then it's easy to slide them off the board onto the hot pizza stone.
This one's a couronne or crown of pain aux céréales (grains and seeds in the flour).
I've also found that cooking the bread at 250ºC works best — that's 480ºF. Lower temperatures don't give as good a result. It's important, also, to humidify the oven by pouring a cup or so of hot water into a shallow pan placed under the pizza stone near the floor of the oven. The steam produced gives the bread a nice crispy or crunchy crust, along with a tender moist crumb or mie. It takes about twenty minutes to cook small loaves. Then they need to cool on a rack before you cut and eat them.
As I said, this has been working really well for us during the bread lady's time off. I'll almost miss making bread when she resumes making her rounds tomorrow morning. But then, the professionally made bread is really good too...